The executive director of the World Society for the Protection of Animals on why Americans should say no to food from animal clones
Ten years after scientists produced the first clone of a mammal, a sheep named Dolly, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has issued a draft assessment that moves our nation closer to the widespread sale of meat and dairy products from animal clones.
During the next two months, Americans have the opportunity to comment on the FDA's draft and influence whether or not food from animal clones ends up in our fast food and on our supermarket shelves. Debate is under way on the possible long-term risk to human health, consumer choice, and religious and ethical concerns. The one group that stands to lose the most if the FDA's assessment is accepted is the farm animals that will suffer and die to produce food and dairy products that most Americans don't want to eat. Since animals cannot speak, those of us who care about animal welfare must speak out for them.
Over the past decade, news of Dolly's birth and subsequent announcements that scientists succeeded in producing clones of cows, pigs, goats, and other animals—even cats and dogs—have been hailed as amazing advances in biotechnology. The fact that Dolly died prematurely of a lung disease that typically afflicts much older sheep, and more importantly, the severity of animal suffering and the welfare issues associated with cloning, have not been as widely reported.
In a country where current farming practices already produce more meat than we can consume, we must ask ourselves the question, "Just because we can produce food from cloned animals, should we?" To those of us who care about animal welfare and the suffering that cloning animals for food will cause, the answer is a resounding, "No."
The FDA has said that it "does not have authority to address the ethics of animal cloning," but the evidence for welfare problems in animal clones is scientifically verified and huge in its scale and depth. The FDA's December, 2006 statement that "Cloning poses no unique risks to animal health," is misleading. Most clone embryos die before birth, and many of the few clones that are born alive suffer from serious abnormalities and premature death. In addition, many of the animals being cloned are those with particularly high productivity, such as cows with excessively large udders that produce more milk but also suffer from major leg problems and painful diseases. It is unconscionable to use biotechnology to knowingly create animals that will suffer in order to produce milk and meat that most Americans would prefer not to consume. If the FDA refuses to listen to reason and allows these products to be brought to market, they must be labeled so that consumers can make informed choices.
Millions of Americans love their pets and realize that animals are sentient beings capable of experiencing pain and suffering. A significant number of them choose to buy and eat products that come from animals that are raised humanely or to not eat meat at all. Whether because of concerns for animal welfare or human health, 64% of Americans said they were uncomfortable with animal cloning in a 2006 poll conducted by the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology.
Public opinion in other countries, including the European Union and Canada, is equally or even more strongly opposed to the idea of food from animal clones. Major grocery food chains in Britain have already announced that they will refuse to sell the products. In the event that the sale of meat and milk from animal clones is actually permitted in the United States, other countries would be likely to refuse to import these products, especially in the absence of appropriate labeling.
Comments can be submitted to the FDA until April 2, 2007. For a direct link to the FDA's site, visit www.fda.gov and click on Animal Cloning under Hot Topics, then on Submit Comments.